Category Archives: SPJul2016

Solomon’s Porch blog posts during July 2016

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Transfiguration

A light appeared from above and everything changed. In the sky there was a great cloud, and the light radiated forth brighter than the sun. There was a thunderous sound, as if the heavens had opened. “This is my son whom I love, listen to him,” said the voice. The disciples fell to the ground. Christ then said to them “Do not be afraid.” This event on Mt. Tabor was a great mystery to the world, the Transfiguration.

The Transfiguration is not just a sign that Christ shows us the Divine, but a sign that we too will one day shine in the radiance of Divine life. The Church teaches that every human is the bearer of the image of God and is the real Body of Christ. The Earth too bears that image, for it bears us, it is the chalice which holds the most sacred thing in creation- life. Orthodox Christians believe that all creation will be transfigured, and that if we just “listen to him,” we will love all humans, love all creation, love all life, and honor the sacred beauty therein.

71 years ago today, on the feast of the Transfiguration, a light appeared from above and everything changed. In the sky there was a great cloud, and the light radiated forth brighter than the sun. There was a thunderous sound, as if the heavens had opened. In an instant 66,000 souls fell to the ground, never to get up again. The city of Hiroshima was obliterated by a single bomb, the A-Bomb. The land was disfigured, irradiated. Over 100,000 ended up perishing from its effects, and those who survived it were changed, bearing the disfiguration in their bodies. This Bomb was a great mystery to the world, and through it the United States meant to speak to the world and to say “Be afraid.”

The primary goals of the bombing were as much military as psychological. The Americans were hoping to strike fear into the Japanese, forcing them to surrender, and to strike fear into the world, establishing the dominance of the United States. Hiroshima was ideally suited to these ends, due to its compact nature. Nuclear weapons expend most of their energy at the epicenter of the blast, and so a special city would be required to showcase how disfiguring the weapon could be. As a bonus, there were weapons stored in the city which could legitimate the civilian casualties of the attack.

Hiroshima was chosen to be the site of revelation to the world. The bomb had been revealed to a select group in New Mexico earlier that summer. The scientists and officials watched with great reverence and devotion. One blind woman miles away said she saw the light as well. A semi-official report of that first blast read “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” The operation was named Trinity.

The Orthodox Church teaches that the Transfiguration is a second Theophany. At Theophany, the Trinity was revealed to the world. At Transfiguration, it was revealed to a select group.

Visit Hiroshima today, and you may still see the disfiguration. As Robin Wright recounts,

Everything about Hiroshima is haunting, particularly the stories and remnants of extinguished young lives collected in the museum. There’s a battered lunchbox belonging to Shigeru Orimen, who was in his first year of junior high. His mother was able to identify the boy’s burned body because he was still clutching it. There’s a shredded school cap and uniform on a skeletal mannequin. They were assembled from meagre rags of clothing left on three boys, aged twelve to fifteen, who happened to be a thousand yards from the bomb’s hypocenter above Hiroshima. There’s a re-created panorama of a woman and child fleeing the blast. Covered with soot and dust, their skin is scorched and bloody, their hair, fried, stands on end, and ripped pieces of clothing hang off their bodies as they attempt to escape the fires consuming the city. The eeriest display is a ghostlike shadow imprinted on a stone step as the blast vaporized the human being who had been sitting there.

Also present in the museum is a small, charred tricycle. It belonged to a three year old boy who had been outside riding it when the 16 kiloton bomb, called “Little Boy” by the Americans, was dropped on the city. His father would find him later in the rubble, on death’s doorstep, still clinging to the handlebars of the tricycle. What did the world gain with the death of this child and the many other children of the city?

Overhead, another American plane accompanied the B-29 bomber. This plane was there to silently observe the effects of the bomb. It was named “Necessary Evil” by the Americans.

Three days later, another bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. The crew were all Christians and just before leaving, they sat with two Christian Chaplains who blessed them and their mission. Nagasaki was home to the largest Christian community in Japan. Over half of the Christians in Japan were killed by the bomb, succeeding where 200 years of intense persecution by the Japanese government had failed. The steeple of the Cathedral of St. Mary was used by the bombers for targeting. The bomb exploded directly over the Cathedral, which was the largest Christian Church in the orient at the time, with over 15,000 members. Exactly one week before Hiroshima was bombed was the feast of St. John the Soldier of Constantinople. St. John was canonized for his refusal to kill Christians and other innocents and for disobeying orders to do so. Some of the crew expressed doubt about the bomb they were dropping, but “orders were orders.” Orthodox Christians were among those killed in the blast.

Orthodoxy was brought to Japan by St. Nicholas, a Russian. He was a voice of peace, having once nonviolently disarmed a Samurai through his preaching. He was protected by the people during the anti-Russian sentiment that reined during the Russian-Japanese war, for he was beloved. The bomb was not as merciful to the Christian population.

 

In the ensuing years, wars were waged over the bomb. An arms race broke out in the world, to be won by those who could disfigure the world the most, even destroy it. Proxy battles were fought in Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan. We still live in the shadow of the bomb today. But there is not just shadow, but also the light of Tabor.

Today we celebrate. The Transfiguration is a promise to a broken world. A promise that all scars will be healed, all divisions overcome, all wars ended, and all souls restored. The Earth will no longer be a crucible of destruction, but the realm of the Kingdom. Atomic radiation will not shine forth from broken bodies, but the uncreated light from transfigured ones. Men will no longer aspire to harness the power of God, but will kneel before their king. There will no longer be cause to be afraid.

Today we remember. Once again the human race had looked upon itself and the world it inhabited with fear, hatred, and violence, and resorted to the most heinous mass execution of civilians that had ever occurred in an instant- the fruits of our dehumanizing fear. Against this, we find the words of the Transfigured whispering to us, “do not be afraid.” Let us pray that we do not need another great cloud and light before we “listen to him.”

Nicholas Sooy

contributing editor, In Communion

That the World May Believe: Why we should embrace the Holy and Great Council of Crete

That the World May Believe: Why we should embrace the Holy and Great Council of Crete

A personal reflection
by Pieter Dykhorst

“…that they may all be one…that the world may believe that you have sent me.” —Jesus (Jn 17:20, 21)

While we confess in the Creed that the Orthodox Church is one, where must an observer look to see our theological, mystical, or true oneness? We have hidden it from ourselves and the world by our behavior. Because of our pervasive fear, self-interest, and insularity, the visible unity of the Church exists only as a broken promise. We boast that the Church, the kingdom of God on earth, is a place of light set high and reached by straight roads where healing and wholeness are practiced, but it exists merely as a broken affiliation scattered among a deeply fractured human family.

The world is like a concentration camp of darkness where its billions suffer every degradation and practice mutual genocide. Our lack of unity effectively marginalizes the witness that Jesus is the light and liberty we all need. How will they believe us when we say Jesus was sent by the Father or recognize us as the children of God when we fail to be peacemakers even within our own house?

This should break all our hearts. When Jesus looked over Jerusalem and felt deeply Israel’s brokenness, “he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” Should we not weep both for our own dysfunctional city and the world? We know the way of peace and do not walk in it.

This is why I embrace the calling, gathering, and labor of the Holy and Great Council that convened in Crete in June 2016. One need not uncritically accept all it has done or produced. To do so would provide an unhelpful gloss. But neither should anyone seek to sabotage or undermine it. That would be business as usual. I am encouraged by the mere convening of the Council, however incomplete, and the reconciliatory mission it has undertaken. The Council is a necessary and hopeful start to the process of facilitating our healing. The work needed to resolve the problems that have hindered our mission and witness to both the Church and the world must continue. I dare to hope that all Orthodox who believe in the conciliar and reconciliatory nature and calling of the Church will embrace the Council, both as an event and as a process, and pray for its success. For the Orthodox Church manifests its true nature in open display when it gathers in council.

The Council’s call to bring all the Churches together every few years suggests a clear and simple rallying point. We reject the model of one pope who rules all. But our present model of many battling popes is a disaster. If the council as an institution were to adopt a model similar to the ruling council in Plato’s perfect republic, then our “philosopher kings” could regularly convene as a council of wise elders truly coming together as benevolent equals. Such a council could lead to increasing our capacity within the Church to bridge internal divides. We could again build trust to resolve outstanding disagreements and problems among us and create mechanisms that prevent new problems from becoming the next generation’s protracted conflicts that defy resolve. By immediately fortifying the very conciliar forum where courageous and imaginative leadership can continue to work together, we will in time come to recognize this as normal.

Critical evaluation of the Council’s documents and proceedings done in good faith and in the spirit of love and with the desire for the success of the Church in its conciliar identity is something all concerned Orthodox should engage in. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in this work, we may begin to implement those things on which we find we already agree, for even critical evaluation should not obscure the fact that the documents contain much that is good. This conciliar labor must engage the Church universal, not only primates, bishops, and synods. Through such a broad and engaged habit of conciliar involvement, we will pass the true test of catholicity and begin to rescue from abstraction our claim of diachronic interaction with history. An organic, growing tradition lives to make history, not preserve it.

We must also acknowledge the criticisms and concerns held by those Churches that participated fully up till the gathering in Crete and hope that their concerns will be considered in full council. These concerns cannot be addressed, and the work already begun cannot be improved or completed, if all the local Churches do not themselves participate fully. Only then can the Pan-Orthodox aspirations of the council be realized. The Churches can’t wait for the Holy Spirit’s anointing to participate, they must participate so they can invite the Holy Spirit’s anointing. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head.…For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133).

Finally, the conciliar and reconciliatory nature and work of the Church cannot be separated. The reconciliation of all things is rooted in—and indeed only made possible by—the ministry of reconciliation being practiced within the Church among and between her members (Eph 2 & Col 1). The councils of the Church are a visible expression of that ministry. When our shepherds become better and more credible examples of reconciliatory ministry through conciliar engagement, the Church may once more believably offer Jesus Christ as bread to a suffering world. Without conciliarity, there is no reconciliation.

That we may be healed and that the world may believe.

Jesus, Superheroes, and the Presidency

Recently I’ve been reading an alternate universe Avengers comic in which Captain America is elected president of the US. It’s a very powerful fantasy that I find captivating. President Cap is the American to the bone, bleeding red white and blue. He’s the apple pie and baseball, blond hair and blue eyed super-soldier. He is America’s very own ubermensch, the ‘blond beast’ of Nietzche’s dreams and of Nazi propaganda. And it’s pretty cool. He flies around in his jet, jumps into crises with battle armor, and punches terrorists in the face.

He is fed up with the bs that is politics, and locks politicians in a room until they come to a compromise. And violence is his go-to solution for problems. He can’t stand doing the job of the president though, sitting behind a desk and talking to people. It’s time to get to work. And his advisors tell him “They didn’t elect you to be the president, but to be a symbol . They don’t want a president, they want a king.”

And as much as I enjoy it, a man wrapped in red, white, and blue, doing everything we fantasize about doing as president when we were teenagers (no wonder they don’t et kids vote), at some point I have to put down the comic and come back to the real world. Presidents aren’t superheroes and they aren’t saviors.

When Jesus came as the Messiah, lots of people had ideas about what he would do. They expected the Messiah to be a warrior King, someone who would swoop in, and punch those Romans in the face. He was supposed to be the ubermensch. If you read texts from the early Christian period, you’ll discover that Jesus is described as short, unattractive, and of a crooked face. He wasn’t the super-soldier the zealots hoped for.  He was supposed to take over the world and lead Israel into greatness. And instead Jesus exalted humility, meekness, peacemaking. He said he would be found among the poor. before starting his ministry, he went into the desert and was tempted to rule all the kingdoms of the world, but he refused this temptation. He chose to die rather than to call down the legion of angels he had in the wings. He told Peter to put away the sword, and he let that terrorist and Christian-persecutor Paul become the leader of his movement. He told Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this world, for if it was of this world his disciples would fight, but they do not fight.

One of my bad habits is that I still like to read these comics. They are powerful fantasies. Even though I know that fantasy and nationalism are both condemned by Orthodox Christianity, it’s a fun thing to imagine: president Cap. It’s tempting to want a president who can give us everything we want, who through their sheer force of personality can move mountains and make our nation into heaven on earth. Essentially, it is a messianic hope, that our president would be a king who inaugurates the rule of the Kingdom of God within the boundaries of our nation, who is a Messiah in every way that Jesus refused to be. But at some point I have to choose, who am I going to live like? Whom do I follow? President Cap or Jesus? “Put not your trust in princes,” the psalm reads, “in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”

An Orthodox Christian mentor of mine once told me “The Pharisees were the conservatives, and the Sadducees were the liberals, and Jesus didn’t have time for either of them.” I’m trying to keep that in mind this year as my country chooses the next person who will ‘lord power over others, the way the gentiles do.’

 

How many thousands of innocent men, women, and children have you killed today?

July 20, 2016

The collective gasp at new British PM Theresa May articulating clearly her willingness to do the will of the people by murdering multiple thousands in a nuclear strike “if necessary” is a bit of a surprise. The reminder that deterrent threats are a real part of US, British, and NATO defense strategy and useful only if articulated and believed is always bracing. But let’s not be moral fascists or hypocrites.

Is there anyone today who does not know what nuclear deterrence is for, what it threatens? The £40 billion Britain is spending on new Trident subs is not for mere window dressing. Is there anyone who does not understand what the principle common to democratic society, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” implies? As a matter of policy, deterrence in the West is periodically reinforced openly and is always voiced early in the administration of new leaders, but it should not shock anybody when it is or that it is about the shared willingness to obliterate hundreds of thousands of human beings in one go.

Clearly specified in all the highest level national and military defense documents guiding US, British, and NATO policy (Russia’s too), nuclear deterrence rests squarely on the credible threat to hold an enemy’s most valuable assets at risk without ever specifying exactly what could trigger a strike or what is being targeted. The goal is to instill debilitating, irrational, convincing fear so that an enemy does not do what we do not want them to do. The philosophical foundation of deterrence is that a threat without willingness to execute it is not a threat and might invite an attack or other costly action against us. Included in 21st century deterrence theory is the concept of “denial,” the notion that we will—quite euphemistically—not strike first but strike preemptively to destroy capability we believe would otherwise be used against us.

There is no relief in the secret hope that the threats our leaders make in our names are not sincere. What virtue is there in making unvirtuous threats, especially if they are made only to cripple with fear? “If you take one step closer, I’ll kill you” only works if the person threatened believes he’s dead unless he goes away. Where is the Christian virtue in knowing there are millions of people in the world who live under our collective threat to incinerate them? What would be a reasonable response from a British or US citizen who prayed regularly “Lord remove from the daily lives of Russians the fear that they may die in a nuclear holocaust unleashed by their enemies?” I’m pretty sure many of us pray that for ourselves. Our thoughts toward the citizens of Moscow are more likely, “If they don’t want to die that way, they should do something about their own ungodly government.” I’m pretty sure few of us think that way toward ourselves.

If Theresa May—or Barack Obama—pushes the button to launch a nuclear missile, it will be you and me who have willed it and done it. The blood of hundreds of thousands of lives will be on our hands. In a constitutional democracy, an authorized act by the government is an act of the people. According to law, a conspiracy to commit murder is as culpable as an actual murder. According to the Gospel, a threat made in the heart has the weight of an act already committed. Murder intended stains and darkens the heart like a murder done. Passivist support that lacks the courage, honesty, and integrity to oppose nuclear deterrence, voting for those who would “push the button” (ask any candidate to clearly say they would not), and merely living in a constitutional democracy all spread the responsibility evenly and widely.

Those who always, inevitably, attempt to shut down any conscientious attempt to expose this simple truth are not behaving out of either patriotic or Christian virtue. Blinded by fear and crippled by the lack of a peacemaking imagination, they employ the languages of patriotism and theology to describe nuclear mass murder as a good, hide their pretended innocence under the cloak of obedience to authority or duty to country, obfuscate with a feigned “what else can we do?”, or simply blame the enemy for doing it to himself. But it will still be murder. Don’t think so?—then how will you describe the deaths of countless children in a US city if they launch a missile against us?

Through nuclear deterrence, we arrogantly seek to emulate the worst caricature of God by threatening hell in order to bend our enemies to our will so that they submit to serve our self-interests—through fear or love, we don’t care. We may act like we don’t understand, but James 4:1 (ESV) describes normal life not submitted to God: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” The Greek for quarrel here is translated “war” or “battle” every other occurrence in the New Testament. A literal translation would read: “Where does war come from, and where do conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your pleasures at war within you?”

How many Russian, Muslim, or Chinese (all currently in US targeting protocols) children is your fear—of losing pleasure, comfort, safety, or your own life—willing to annihilate today? Go ahead—say the number. Do not be fooled, no nuclear missile distinguishes between innocent and guilty—their fiery embrace is more far reaching and inclusive than we like to think about. A nuclear blast wave does not stop politely at the periphery of a military target.

The only consonant response for a Christian citizen of a nuclear power to the “news” yesterday that the leader of a nation possessing such weapons would actually use them is repentance. Then come the fruits of repentance: humility, prayer, faith, hope, love, works of mercy, love of enemies, forgiveness of others, self-sacrificial love for all, peacemaking, etc. These are not passive; they are vigorously borne only by the courageous and strong in the face of what we fear.

Pieter Dykhorst

editor, In Communion